Fancy being ‘paid to pray’!
That’s what my life as a priest looks like, though, from one angle.
I’m still trying to habituate myself to it, after many years of ‘unpaid’ (‘self – supporting’, aka non-stipendiary) ministry which essentially for me meant living off someone else’s salary.
I used to think the C of E was so backward, holding onto this concept of a stipend when everyone else is progressing up their pay scales, or looking for better paid work. Why not just call it a salary (and a mediocre one, at that)?
But I kind of get it now.
The cost of living crisis notwithstanding, a stipend gives you enough to live on – and a free house – so that you can BE a priest.
So that you can BE.
Which is, in itself, a completely counter-intuitive and counter cultural concept.
I wrote somewhere else about one of Caitlin Moran’s articles where she asked a friend what she was up to in the coming week. Normally when you ask clergy this question they go slightly pale, consult their diaries and say something along the lines of ‘terrible week/back to back meetings/no slots available/four nights in a row’/ etc. etc. And no doubt with good reason.
But Caitlin Moran’s friend, to the question ‘what are you up to next week’? just answered ‘not much’ and Moran spent the rest of the article trying to come to terms with this simple answer, which had blown her mind.
Perhaps it’s a woman thing. Women have often juggled earning/breaking to have kids/working part time/worrying about their meagre pensions/ etc. so we’re perhaps we’re more programmed to ‘work to earn’, to DO, DO, DO.
When you’re a homemaker and no one’s paying you to work at that, all the tasks of homemaking tend to be endless and we’ve all had moments of being completely overwhelmed with the number of jobs there are TO DO, that get undone every day, and need doing the next. And the next. And so on..
On the other hand, if you have ever taken time out to bring up children (which is the hardest work I’ve ever done) you have in fact done a lot of sitting around apparently doing nothing, whilst at the same time being endlessly present to your kids, who are off in the background doing things like playing with lego, watching cartoons, struggling with homework, brooding over being dumped or stressing about exams.
So maybe women (women of a certain age?) who are priests have had quite a lot of practice already, in moving from doing to being and back again.
And being – presence – is a gift that priests bring, whatever their gender identity.
I often forget that presence is a gift and I forget that BEING with God is the source of everything else I do.
This is the temptation though: it feels good when you’re doing stuff.
I like doing stuff. I like doing ministry, Doing feels important. It makes me feel important. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Maybe doing shows the people you lead that you are a worthy leader. You get stuff done; you tick the boxes; you move things on.
We’ve all read the job adverts (should we be calling it a job even?) in the Church Times where they’re looking for an ‘energetic’ priest. I’ve come to realise this is a RED FLAG. I mean I love the idea of being energetic, but in this context it could well involve colluding with the structures of busy-ness that will eventually suck all the being out of you.
So there’s nothing wrong with doing, but it’s not the whole story.
The other part of the story is that there’s a source of all that doing – which is being.
Being precedes doing. Although the more well known pairing is, I suppose, termed as Action and Contemplation.
You ARE a priest, whether you’re having a productive week or an enforced lockdown (as we all were, two years ago).
You ARE a priest when you have a diary cancellation, over-estimate how much time something was going to take, realise you’re too tired to start anything new at 3pm and sit quietly thinking about the day you just had. Which might lead you to noticing something God is trying to bring to your attention but you’d been too busy doing stuff to recognise.
Work on being and I’ve generally found that the doing takes care of itself.
And to be given permission by the Church, in its wisdom, to do this (‘paid to pray’) is the greatest privilege.